Posts Tagged ‘MBTA’

Salem

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Susan, Peter & I took a daytrip by commuter rail to Salem a week ago Sunday.  It was a fun adventure, especially for our three-year old train fanatic who looked out the window and narrated our journey all the from North Station to Salem.

Our first stop was lunch at Reds Sandwich Shop where the friendly waitresses (and customers) doted on Peter and the plates were full of tasty food.   Next stop was the Peabody Essex Museum.    After getting admonished by a guard for standing too close to the maritime art we went to the family-friendly, hands-on Art & Nature gallery.  Here there was the art of optical illusions, toys, puzzles, books, and a build your own bird station among other treats.  I was able to explore some of the other galleries and was impressed by the mix of American and Asian fine arts and decorative pieces, deliberately overlapping to show the cross-pollination of cultures in Salem’s history.  Particularly impressive was the FreePort [No. 001] exhibit in the East India Marine Hall where a staid gallery of ship’s models and figureheads is transformed by animations projected on all surfaces.  The video below should give the essence of the experience but one really needs to walk into the room for the full effect.

The PEM is an impressive museum and there was a lot more to see – including a special exhibit of Dutch art – but we were all pretty tired by then.  As a special treat for good behavior in the museum I took Peter to Ye Olde Pepper Candy Company, reputedly America’s oldest candy story.  Peter picked out a package of gummy fish and we ate them on the wharf overlooking historic houses and ships.  Salem is a charming town and has a quite to bit to offer especially if you can avoid the cheezy witchcraft exploitation industry.

We had a light supper and then caught a double-decker commuter train back to Boston which made it double exciting.

Earlier journeys in-and-around Boston:

Photopost: Providence

Today I took my toddler son Peter on a day trip to Providence, RI.  The main appeal of the outing was for Peter to finally get a chance to ride the double-decker commuter rail trains but I’ve been wanting to explore Providence for some time.  Despite living a combined 27-years in the neighboring states of Connecticut and Massachusetts I’ve not given much attention to Rhode Island.  I’ve driven through Providence past the giant termite, I went to a basketball camp at Providence College 20 years ago when I was in high school, I’ve been to a couple of Providence Bruins games, and … and that’s about it.

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The Providence railroad station is centrally located right next to the Rhode Island State House.  For the smallest state, Rhode Island really has an enormous capitol complete with gleaming white marble, neoclassical facades, and a looming hilltop presence.  I didn’t have any destination in mind, just wanted to get out and  explore. Peter & I strolled through Waterplace Park an attractive urban development of recent vintage which apparently replaced railroad tracks that once covered the river.  Then we visited City Hall Park where Peter chased after many, many pigeons.

While I would be content to study the attractive architecture of Providence, Peter wanted a playground and not being able to find one, we made our way to the Providence Children’s Museum.  The museum is located in the Jewelery District which actually looked like a district of unoccupied industrial buildings which was a little creepy.  The area around the museum was friendly and the museum itself was great – smaller but also less intimidating than the Boston Children’s Museum.   On our way back to the railroad station we walked through another part of downtown.  It feels someone how more urban than Boston and very different architecturally.  I will have to return to explore more when my attention is not so focused on a toddler.

The Best Dam Walking Tour in Boston

I promote a lot of tours on this blog, but if there’s one tour you must take this summer it’s the Exploring the Charles River Basin tour offered by Boston By Foot guides (including myself).  The tour steps off at 2 pm on Sunday, June 27th from Nashua Street Park just opposite the exit from the Science Park MBTA station (exit to the right, not toward the Museum of Science).  Admission for this tour is $15/person and $5 for card-carrying members of Boston By Foot.  A great excuse for getting a membership now!

Not to frighten anyone off but this tour covers about two-miles of some-times rough ground with little protection from the elements.  So come prepared with appropriate clothing and fresh liquids.  The tour lasts approximately 2 hours but you can duck out pretty easily at the 90-minute mark if you need to.

While Exploring the Charles River Basin,  you will:

  • discover three brand-new parks that most people don’t know exist.
  • history of the Charles River and its ever-encroaching banks
  • hear mellifluous words like bascule, freshet, and sluiceway and find out what they mean too
  • cross not one but two dams
  • see the only city jail with a waterfront view and a park across the street
  • ponder our litigious society
  • find what remains of Miller’s River
  • get a new perspective on the world’s widest cable-stayed bridge
  • and without fail you’ll see all manner of transportation, roads, railways, bridges, and waterways

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Charles River Basin Walking Tour

I promote a lot of tours on this blog, but if there’s one tour you must take this summer it’s the Exploring the Charles River Basin tour offered by Boston By Foot guides (including myself).  The tour steps off at 2 pm on Sunday, July 26th from Nashua Street Park just opposite the exit from the Science Park MBTA station (exit away from the way to the Museum of Science.  Admission for this tour is $15/person and $5 for card-carrying members of Boston By Foot.  A great excuse for getting a membership now!

Not to frighten anyone off but this tour covers about two-miles of some-times rough ground with little protection from the elements.  So come prepared with appropriate clothing and fresh liquids.  The tour lasts approximately 2 hours but you can duck out pretty easily at the 90-minute mark.

While Exploring the Charles River Basin,  you will:

  • discover three brand-new parks that most people don’t know exist.
  • history of the Charles River and its ever-encroaching banks
  • hear mellifluous words like bascule, freshet, and sluiceway and find out what they mean too
  • cross not one but two dams
  • see the only city jail with a waterfront view and a park across the street
  • ponder our litigious society
  • find what remains of Miller’s River
  • get a new perspective on the world’s widest cable-stayed bridge
  • and without fail you’ll see all manner of transportation, roads, railways, bridges, and waterways

Come join us by the banks of the Charles River!

Come join us by the banks of the Charles River and find the Lost Half Mile!

Seashore Trolley Museum

As a Father’s Day treat, Susan & Peter took me to the Seashore Trolley Museum in Arundel, ME.  Admission was free for Dads with their children and Peter was free himself by virtue of being under five.

Click for complete gallery of Seashore Trolley Museum photos.

There are two surprising things about the Museum that stand out.  First, despite being a museum of mass transit the museum is located in a relatively remote and wooded area.  And yet, as we would soon learn, during the golden age of trolleys even this part of Maine had a trolley line.  Second, on first view the Museum has kind of a “cluttered attic” look to it with various vehicles parked all over an open yard, some of them in rather decrepit condition.  Again we would learn that restoration of these trollies is a long and laborious process which is a labor of love by the Museum’s volunteers.  It is to their credit that they save so many vehicles from becoming scrap and making the available for visitors to see.

Right upon arrival we boarded a restored Third Avenue Railway streetcar from New York City (which later did a stint in Vienna, Austria after WWII) for a ride along a restored portion of the Atlantic Shore Line Railway.  A conductor punched our tickets, and Peter & I enjoyed looking out the window and playing on the seats.

The conductor punches our ticket

The conductor punches our ticket

After returning to the Museum proper, we took another ride on the Shuttle – a Dallas Railway & Terminal Co. car – to the Riverside barn. One of the volunteers gave us an excellent walk through of the trolleys on exhibit. From that point we were pretty much on our own to wander around and explore the trolleys and other vehicles on display and dodge rain drops. Not only are there passenger trolleys but work cars, freight cars, mail cars, and even a prison car!

Twin Cities Railway Company Gate Car

Twin Cities Railway Company "Gate Car"

Some of our favorites include:

  • Glasgow Corporation Transport #1274 – a double decker with plush upholstered seats on the first floor and leather seats on the upper deck because that was the smoking area.  Peter enjoyed climbing up the steep narrow staircase.
  • City of Manchester parlor car – an elegantly decorated and detailed car used by railway officials and dignitaries in Manchester, NH.
  • State of the Art Cars (S.O.A.C.) – rapid transit cars designed by the U.S. Department of Transportation and tested in five cities – including Boston – in the 1970’s.  Peter particularly enjoyed exploring this train.
  • Twin Cities Rapid Transit #1267 – these homemade “gate cars” worked the streets of Minneapolis and St. Paul with the large platform and gates allowing for quick boarding by large numbers of passengers.
  • West End Railway Co. #396 – a “Boston Special” wooden streetcar from the early part of the 20th century
  • Cleveland Railway #1227 – The conductor/volunteer (in the photo above) snuck us in the center-car entrance of this trolley which was undergoing renovation for 20-years to get to its current lovely condition.
Boston Special streetcar

"Boston Special" streetcar

Although there are trolleys from around the world, I particularly liked the relics from Boston’s public transit. These include signs from when the Charlestown elevated and Washington Street elevated closed down. The biggest piece of Boston transit history sits in the parking lot surrounded by weeds. Northampton station once was elevated over Washington Street near Massachusetts avenue but was torn down after the Orange Line was rerouted in 1987.

Northampton station from the Washington Street Elevated in Boston

Northampton station from the Washington Street Elevated in Boston

I had a great time and would love to visit again to explore this large collection of transit history.

Sign of the Times

I’m amused by this hand-edited sign in the elevator at Central Square subway station in Cambridge. Sadly, signs like these would actually be needed in some MBTA elevators, especially the one the Tremont Street exit from Park Street.

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Commuting with kids in Boston

I’ve hesitated to write anything on this blog from a parenting perspective since I’m such a novice parent, but after 17 months as Daddy I think there’s one issue I can write about and maybe actually be helpful:  commuting with kids.  Or one child at least.  My son Peter has been riding the T since he was three weeks old and for the past seven months he & I have made the daily commute from Jamaica Plain to Allston where he goes to child care and I go to work.

Peter catches some shut-eye on the Orange Line, a rare occurence.

Peter catches some shut-eye on the Orange Line, a rare occurrence.

Riding the subway to bring Peter to child care has many obvious advantages: save money, save gas, reduce auto exhaust pollution, et al.  Developmentally I think it is also much more interesting for Peter.  He could sit in a car seat in the back of a car (facing backward before he turned one) and have not much to do for half an hour, or ride the subway for 45 minutes where he gets to watch and interact with numerous people and read books and play with toys with Dad.   Turns out, Peter loves the T.  He loves to wave and say hi to people, and especially has fun making faces at other children on the T.  I find myself in conversations more often with my fellow passengers as well, who often seem delighted by a little boy in this grown-up world of commuters.  In fact, if I were a single dad I don’t think I’d be one for long because Peter particularly likes to flirt with women. Mostly, I enjoy the company.  It’s a lovely way to begin and end each work day spending time with my little boy.

Stroller vs. Carrier

One of the first things to consider when taking children on public transportation is how to carry the child.  A carrier of some sort – a sling, frontpack or backpack – can be a good option.  On a crowded subway it’s definitely the sleeker option less likely to create a hindrance for other passengers.  Plus one can take full advantage of the stairs and escalators instead of looking for the often hidden, sometimes broken elevators.

When Peter was very little my wife and I carried him in a Maya sling and it worked quite well.  When he got bigger I tried a backpack and liked it for all the reasons mentioned above.  One day I noticed women taking pictures of us with our cellphone as I stood hanging on to a strap with Peter on my back.  I turned my head and saw that Peter was also holding a strap which made us so photogenic.  Unfortunately there were downsides to the backpack as well.  Peter was constantly losing his hats, gloves, and shoes or his nose would get runny or some other problem that was difficult to address without taking off the pack.  And taking off and putting on the pack on a moving train is not a safe or easy thing to do.  I was also constantly afraid I was going to whack some other passenger and/or Peter when moving in tight spaces.  Throw in some back problems and the back pack was not for me.  A front pack of some sort may make a better option and will definitely be something to look into for a future child.

So I use a stroller, a sturdy not overly-large MacLaren.  The stroller takes a load off my back and makes it easier to see that Peter is all put-together as well as interact to play with toys, read books or just hold hands when we’re tired.  Unfortunately, the stroller can be a bit bulky and get in people’s way, and I’m afraid I’ve run over more than one set of toes trying to steer it in tight spaces.  Sometimes on the Red Line in the morning I have to let a train (or two!) pass by because they are just too crowded for me and a stroller to fit.  This is why I loved the Big Red seatless cars but apparently they’re not running them anymore.

Riding the elevators adds a bit of time to the commute and they’re  not always in the most intuitive locations.  For example, if riding the Red Line toward Ashmont/Braintree and wanting to transfer to the Orange Line to Forest Hills, one must get off at Park Street and walk down the pedestrian tunnel to the Orange Line platform at Downtown Crossing.  Heading the other way, one must exit the turnstiles at Downtown Crossing, walk down the Winter Street Concourse, reenter the turnstiles at the other end and take the elevator down to the Red Line (makes me wonder if a person in a wheelchair who doesn’t have a Charlie Card link pass to have to pay to get back in, which doesn’t seem to fair).  This actually isn’t all that inconvenient just not the most obvious route to make a transfer.

Overall, once I’ve learned where all the elevators are and the best spots in the car to go with the stroller (all the way at the end so I don’t get in the way of aisle) I think the stroller has been very positive for me and for Peter.  As I mentioned above most of the other passengers seem to be very welcoming to an infant on the T, and often people offer me a seat.  That’s one courtesy I never expected anyone to share with burly, 6’1″ man in the pink of health!

Problems and Potential Pitfalls

While my commuting experience with Peter has been overwhelmingly positive there are a few problems to watch out for:

  • Other passengers – My greatest fear going into this is that I would encounter people who would find Peter too noisy, too distracting, or otherwise too bothersome to their commute and they would let me know about it in no uncertain terms.  Blessedly this has not happen as people have been mostly friendly and helpful or at least hold their tongue.  One grandmotherly type actually read “Brown Bear, Brown Bear” to Peter and a young man told me Peter was the highlight of his day. There was one occasion when Peter was five months old when a woman told me that T was too dangerous and I should get a car (which defies logic since automobile crashes are a leading cause of death in the US).  Even though that was upsetting, she actually said it in a way that made it seem that she thought she was being helpful.  I’ve yet to meet the truly nasty person on the T which makes me more trustful of my fellow humans.  Still, I worry because of
  • Meltdowns – For whatever reason – because he likes other people, hanging out with Dad, or the soothing rhythm of the rails – Peter is usually pretty happy when we’re on the T.  But he has his bad days.  He particularly doesn’t like it when the subway car gets overly crowded and like many a commuter he complains when there are delays.  One morning he had a complete meltdown while we were stuck for an interminable amount of time between Central and Harvard and I had to contend with trying to soothe him and worrying about how he was affecting the other passengers.  Stressful to say the least. All babies cry, and there’s no foolproof way to prevent this, but I believe distraction is the key – have toys, teething rings, books, or anything the child loves on hand.  Sometimes with Peter it’s as simple as turning the stroller in a different direction so he has someone else to look.  Again, other passengers are my friends offering a silly face or a tissue during my times of need.
  • Buses – The subway is very workable for commuting with a stroller but I’ve all but given up on the bus.  The narrow aisle on the newer models leaves nowhere to put a stroller out of the way, and folding up the stroller and holding Peter isn’t very feasible either.  Perhaps with a less active child that might work.  Route 66 especially is a nightmare.  Route 39 has a nice spot for strollers in the bendy section, but there’s no guarantee that you can actually get down the aisle to that point when it’s crowded.

So that is my experience commuting with a child on the T.  I hope the suggestions are useful to any other parents out there.  If you’re thinking about taking the T with your own children and wondering if it’s worth the hassle, I say go for it.  I find it rewarding in ways I never imagined.  If you have any questions or suggestions of your own, please post them in the comments or email me at liamothemts AT gmail DOT com.  I’d particularly like to hear from parents about their experiences with an older child or with multiple children on the T.

Riding Big Red

Last month, Boston’s transit authority the MBTA introduced a new “high-capacity car” on the Red Line which they call Big Red. Basically during rush hours a couple of car without any seats are placed at the center of the train. As an experienced commuter, I’ve long become accustomed to the limited circulation within MBTA subway cars. This is especially true for people in wheelchairs, people with bikes, luggage, or other bulky items, and people like myself who travel with children in strollers. Even when it’s just human bodies, it can get pretty tight in the subway car. So I found this an excellent idea and having recently had a chance to ride the Big Red (with my son in his stroller) found it much more convenient to board, get into the center of the car, and find a place to ride in peace without getting in anyone else’s way.

While Big Red is promoted as a high-capacity car, I think it’s real advantage is in improving the circulation of passengers within the cars which will contribute greatly to speeding up boarding times at the station. In a normal subway car, the ride is often slowed down by:

  • People who start boarding while other people are trying to get out of the train
  • Passengers who stand in front of the door while other people are trying to board and unload.
  • Passengers who completely block the aisle w/ their bodies and/or accouterments.
  • Passengers who refuse to move into the center of the car (of course w/ other passengers blocking the aisles can often be blamed for this)
  • People who insist on squishing into an already crowded train even when it’s been announced that another train is approaching.

I’ve only had a chance to ride a Big Red car once, but I did find that a lot of these problems were alleviated by the more spacious interior of the seatless cars. The MBTA has received a lot of harsh criticism for Big Red – most noticeably from that bastion of fair & balanced journalism the Boston Herald which pictured a subway car full of heifers under the headline CATTLE CAR. I personally applaud the MBTA for thinking creatively, and even if Big Red flops, I hope they continue to try out new ideas that may improve the rider experience on the T.

I’ve travelled on transit systems in other cities that have spring-loaded seats that can be flipped down when needed by the riders.  I think this is something the MBTA should consider to make the interiors of the subway cars more flexible.  On the U-Bahn in Munich, I was also impressed that at the stations in the center city all the passengers would exit out one side of the train while boarding passengers would enter from the other side of the train, greatly decreasing the amount of time the train has to spend at the station.  I think the MBTA should try this at Park Street station by having passengers board the train from the side platforms and exit onto the center platform (although since the elevator is on the center platform, anyone needing the elevator would still have to board from the center platform).

I’ve submitted my comments to the MBTA through their Big Red survey on their website.  Let’s hope they keep trying things out to make getting around our great city all the more pleasurable

South Station & Greenway Inaugural

Today, my son Peter & I took a tour of South Station, a continuing education for members of Boston By Foot (one of the reasons why you should become a member).  I love railroad stations so it was fun to poke around and see old artifacts, granite pilings, and even the exclusive Acela waiting room.

Unfortunately, railway stations are crowded, noisy places so I didn’t learn much to report back.  South Station is also difficult to photograph.  There are so many people and iPod ads in the way. The highlight of the tour for me was a story from a BBF docent who remembers riding in his friend’s aunt’s private train to go to New York for Mets’ games (the aunt of course was Joan Payson).  There’s a good history of the building online at the South Station website.

I thought about catching the commuter train to Forest Hills, but just missed it.  Instead we walked along the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway and enjoyed the Greenway’s ignagural event.  It strikes me that the Greenway makes an excellent location for a street fair, so I hope other events like this will be held in the future.  Peter enjoyed boogieing in the grass to the Jewish-Cuban sounds of Odessa Havana.  After that we went home for a nap.

Previously:

Ashmont-Mattapan High Speed Trolley Line

I arrived early for a tour in Ashmont and with nothing better to do, I got my geek on and rode the Mattapan-Ashmont High Speed Trolley Line. I’ve lived in Boston for nearly ten years and have wanted to ride this special trolley line for almost as long.  Granted, the previous time I tried the line was closed for the day, and it was closed completely for renovation for a couple of years, but I’ve been delinquent regardless.

What makes the line special to transit geeks like myself is that it uses PCC Streetcars, a sturdy design manufactured from the 1920’s-1950’s.  It also has an exclusive right-of-way, hence the “high speed” designation.

The ride was a joy.  The PCC Streetcars seem to have a more spacious interior and run more smoothly than the Green Line light-rail vehicles (although a couple of time the car jerked violently from side-to-side). The ride is scenic passing through a cemetery, along a Neponset River wetlands, past old warehouses in Milton and through many backyards (I’d love to have a trolley line in my backyard).  The trolley drivers don’t come to a full-stop at the stations unless someone requests it, but they do a kind of rolling stop.  I was amused when the trolley operator stopped to talk with the driver of the car coming from the opposite direction.

The viaduct turn-around at Ashmont reminds me of a roller coaster at an amusement park.

I thought the MBTA logo looked old-fashioned but the route maps are pretty much up-to-date.

The trolley at the Mattapan terminus

Two off-duty trolleys at the Mattapan yard.

More on the Ashmont-Mattapan High Speed Trolley Line at NYC Subways.

Previously: Mattapan Trolley Returns

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